Bill Cissna with the Journal-Constitution published an article regarding what you need to know if you attend the Spoleto Festival held in Charleston, South Carolina this May (May 25-June 10). Here is the article,
“Charleston, S.C. â€” From May 25 to June 10, this beautiful, historic city will host the 31st Spoleto Festival USA, a celebration of arts and theater.
If you’ve never been, it’s an exciting time to soak in the charms of Charleston. But if you’ve never been â€” as my wife Kathy and I learned when we made our first, uninformed visit to Spoleto in 2004 â€” you may not know all you need to know.
And so, we offer a first-timer’s guide to Spoleto.
Think Piccolo, too
For our first trip, we visited the main Spoleto Festival USA Web site (www.spoletousa.org) to plan and mined it for many fine and entertaining events.
When we reached Charleston, however, and picked up the local newspaper’s very complete tabloid section on the festival, we discovered that the official Spoleto events are just a fraction of what’s available.
Another whole set of events built around the dates of Spoleto is called Piccolo Spoleto (www.piccolospoleto.com). If you want to see the entire range of Spoleto options, be sure to look there.
While, for instance, we saw the internationally renowned Alvin Ailey dance troupe and a new play starring Mikhail Baryshnikov as part of Spoleto, we also caught the Second City’s touring group and got tickets to a one-man show that told the entire “Star Wars” original trilogy in one hour (both very funny outings), both part of Piccolo Spoleto.
In 2005, we would have missed the very amusing “Man 1, Bank 0” and the Upright Citizens Brigade tour troupe if we didn’t know about Piccolo.
You may want to consider buying some of your tickets in advance. For the mainstream Spoleto Festival events, two of the three we attended in 2004 were sold out, and the wildly popular opera “Don Giovanni” sold out for two years running. You can buy tickets for most anything at the main box office for the festival, unless the production is a sellout. It’s your call, but if it’s a name event, buying ahead is like buying insurance â€” you may not need it, but at least you know you’ve got it.
You say tomato, I say …
Don’t worry too much if you don’t know how to pronounce “Spoleto.” There’s apparently no consensus on the subject. The two most popular versions are pronouncing the “let” portion as it is spelled, “spoh â€“ LETT â€“ oh,” or pronouncing that “e” as a long “a” as “spoh â€“ LAY â€“ toe.”
Forget it. Parking is an issue in the cramped, historically narrow streets of downtown Charleston during the 17 days of the festival.
If you can afford to stay in a central downtown accommodation (see also lodging rates), make sure a parking space comes with it. In some cases, it might be in a municipal parking lot at $10-$12 a day, but at least you’re parked. You can walk to nearly all the Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto venues.
If you are staying on the outskirts and driving in for events, on-street, legal parking is almost impossible. Look for the municipal lots, but you will not necessarily locate the closest one on a main street. Often, they are hidden on a side street. Find a festival map for help.
Charleston is a delightful city and you’re going to want to stay right in the middle of festival events. If it’s not too late.
Spoleto is a popular time to visit, particularly on the weekends. And Charleston’s business people realize that the American economic system of supply-and-demand works. Don’t be surprised if they charge more for a stay during the festival than at less-popular times of the year.
Rooms in prime areas go early. Several central city bed-and-breakfasts were fully booked in early March for the 2004 opening weekend. In 2005, we took the last available room at one of them in early February. For 2006, we called the same facility in December 2005. No go. We found a different B&B instead.
Hotels may have rooms available longer, or you may benefit from cancellations.
If you’re a traveler who makes last-minute decisions, maybe you’d better take a pass on Spoleto or be willing to accept that you may end up staying outside downtown and driving in.
A good source of information for festival planning is the Charleston Area Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Web site (www.charlestoncvb.com
/visitors); or call 1-800-774-0006 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays for trip planning assistance.
Major downtown hotels include the Marriott Renaissance (www.marriott.com, search for Charleston SC Renaissance hotels) and Charleston Place. Two nice bed-and-breakfasts where we have stayed are the Meeting Street Inn (www.meetingstreetinn.com; 1-800-842-8022) and the Elliott House Inn (www.elliotthouseinn.com; 1-800-729-1855). The Web site www.charminginns.com has several properties, and there are a number of other hotel and B&B options.
Dining couldn’t be finer
Not that it’s not so at other times of the year, but Charleston rolls out its finest meal and entertainment options during Spoleto. And downtown has lots of excellent options, from 82 Queen and Poogan’s Porch to several Irish and English pubs (Tommy Condon’s, O’Reilly’s and the Bull & Finch), to Magnolia’s and Anson, to the Cru Cafe and the Swamp Fox. Last year, we also very much enjoyed Fish, which is adjacent to the American Theater, one of the Piccolo Spoleto venues.
If the weather is pleasant: take in Sunday brunch at the open-air Terrace, on the third floor of the building at the corner of Calhoun and King. It overlooks the artists’ tents on Marion Square and feeds you well at a reasonable price. Being there when it opens helps assure quick seating.
How to dress
When you plan your packing, keep in mind that Charleston has a subtropical climate, even in late May, and days in the 90s are not impossible.
Dressy casual is pretty widely acceptable for most Spoleto events and most restaurants; shorts can be seen in nearly all audiences and at restaurants as well, though slacks and skirts might be more appropriate in the evenings. If you’re walking very far, comfortable shoes and limited layers are the way to go.
Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto provide nearly a nonstop barrage of dance, jazz, theatrical, operatic and other performance options, along with festival shopping and fine arts. If you go with the flow, and plan well, those 17 days can also make an enjoyable escape from one world into a creative, entertaining place unlike any other.
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